What does women’s liberation mean for those of us at the leading edge at the beginning of the twenty-first century? That’s the question we’ve tried to address in this issue of What Is Enlightenment? At a time when so many women have indeed achieved equal rights and are in a position to do more or less anything that they want to do, the very notion of women’s liberation urgently needs to be recontextualized. During this period in our collective history when time seems to be speeding up, when the structures of Western culture are buckling under the pressures of a fast-approaching future, for many of us our very identities are becoming less and less clearly defined. Men and women find themselves in the position of having to figure out for themselves what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman in a post-conventional, post-traditional context.
In terms of women’s liberation, I believe that the important question, for those of us who have grown up in the postmodern West, is less about women’s rights and more about a deeper notion of spiritual freedom for women who have already begun to outgrow conventional roles. In traditional contexts, the feminine expression of spiritual liberation is often modeled after cultural archetypes such as the Mother and the Virgin. But for those who have already transcended these archetypes, the definition of the feminine principle and how it is to be expressed in a post-postmodern context is an open question. What is liberation for women today? That’s the question our editorial team posed to twenty-four extraordinary women from different walks of life.
I first became interested in the subject of women’s liberation when, in my role as a spiritual teacher, I began to notice that women seemed to face unique challenges on the path to evolution beyond ego. That began a long journey of discovery with my own students, which I discuss with Ken Wilber in this issue’s “Guru & Pandit” dialogue. Four of the women who have shared this journey with me describe their experience of “A New Women’s Liberation” in a group interview, and the three leading teachers of “Integral Feminism” write about the work they are doing to forge new pathways for women’s evolution. In “The Fire of Freedom,” Elizabeth Debold takes us on a three-thousand-year journey through major shifts in cultural evolution, making the intriguing point that at these historical junctures, there were always heroic women whose bold leaps forward preceded the tide of social change. And finally, examining the predicament of young women today, Maura O’Connor makes a stunning indictment of where the women’s movement has led us in her powerful essay “Freedom and Choice in Pornutopia: Why Girls Are Going Wild.”
Needless to say, we are very passionate about this all-important topic and intend to continue to pursue the questions raised in these pages in future issues. I hope that with the help of our readers and contributors, we will be able to participate in a meaningful way in the great task of redefining the roles of women and men in order to create, together, a truly enlightened culture.